The Last Dance? Let's Hope So

First off, I want to thank so many of you for sending photos for our “Photo. Forward. Feed.” campaign. For those of you who might have missed it, we have relaunched our Passions in America website*, and our first big project is asking people to send us a photograph of something that brings them joy in these troubled times.

And for every person who sends us a photo, we will donate $10 to the So Others May Eat food pantry in Washington D.C.

*If you get a chance, go over there and check out a story about a woman who has found that crocheting helps her deal with the darkness. It’s great.

You have already sent us so many incredible photographs. You’ll soon see them up on the website. But I wanted to do something special to thank you so — here’s my photo, a photo of our daughter, Elizabeth, doing something she loves.

See, she gets a “This Day in History” email every day with fun facts about the day … and Tuesday (you might have missed this) was the anniversary of the day that Anne Boleyn was beheaded. It just so happens that Elizabeth is utterly obsessed with Anne Boleyn, so she decided to commemorate the occasion she would recreate the scarf and headdress and necklace that she wore.

She spent HOURS on this. She sewed. She sketched. She designed. And I have to say: It made her happier than just about any time I’ve seen in weeks. This is what our passions can do for us.

Here’s how it turned out:

That’s Elizabeth on the right.

She also used her movie makeup to create a photo of herself as Anne Boleyn post-beheading, but I’ll spare you that one.

If you would like to send a photo, it’s not too late — in fact, it’s still early because we haven’t officially kicked off the campaign. You can send your photo here.

What’s Going On

— OK, over at The Athletic, we’re 20 moments into my 60 Moments series about the 60 greatest moments in baseball history. I will admit it’s been a little rougher going than I thought at the start. For one thing, I’m literally writing these things live — whatever cushion I might have built up by writing a handful at the beginning is now gone.

For another, these essays are turning out to be longer than I was hoping. I wanted them to be 1,000 or so words — and they’re actually more like 2,500 words. If I averaged 2,500 words for 60 essays, that’s 150,000 words, which is again longer than any book I’ve written. I’ve got to reel things in.

— When all this is over (hopefully sooner than later) someone will no doubt ask: “So, what did you accomplish during the pandemic?” I’ve been thinking a lot about what my answer will be. Unfortunately, at the moment, the leading answer in the clubhouse is: “I got a lot better at ping pong.” Well, hey, it’s true.

— We are now binge-watching Brooklyn 99 as a family. I’m embarrassed it took this long to get started (don’t tell Mike) but we just finished the first two seasons, and we absolutely love it. Every day now, the girls come down for dinner and say, “Brookies?” That’s how they ask if we can watch one or two or seven Brooklyn 99s. I’m sure we’re watching some tonight.

I went on a long rant about “The Last Dance” on the PosCast this week. I would never ask any of you to actually listen to that so … let me put a short version of the rant here.

To begin: I have not watched one minute of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” about Michael Jordan and those Chicago Bulls. So my rant has nothing to do with the quality of the series, which I’ve heard is wonderful.

No, it’s something else. I have not watched The Last Dance, but I’ve consumed it. I’ve had no choice. It’s everywhere. It’s on my Twitter feed. It’s in my inbox. It’s seemingly in every other conversation I have. I’m happy that the documentary has brought people together and given so many a sports jolt that has been missing in all our lives.

But I absolutely hate it.

No, really, I hate it with every fiber of my being. If hate was violence, I’d be a Tarrantino movie. If hate was commercials, I’d be GEICO. If hate was sand, I’d be The Rub al-Khali.

There are many reasons I hate it, but I want to focus on two of them.

  1. The Last Dance has turned countless people of my generation into old farts who shout at clouds and prattle on about how much better things used to be. I never thought that would be us, man.

In the years after college, I spent my time with a group of young people who mainly wanted to complain about how Baby Boomers shoved their nostalgia down our throats. Yeah, that’s right, we were the original “OK, Boomer” folks. We complained about the Beatles, about the Kennedy obsession, about the nonsense that Baby Boomer rock was “classic,” about the absurd nostalgia our parents and teachers and the rest felt for awful things like The Doors.

And mostly, we complained about their insistence that everything good that will ever happen in sports already happened. We were sick of hearing that their Jim Browns and John Unitases and Jerry Wests and Wilt Chamberlains and Sandy Koufaxes and Gordie Howes were so much better than the soft and undisciplined bunch of underachievers we grew up with.

Looking back, what bothered us most was not them celebrating their youth — everyone should do that. No, it was their adamant belief that things had gotten worse, sports had gotten worse, music had gotten worse, movies had gotten worse, television had gotten worse … and we needed to know that.

The 49ers? With that little dink-pass offense? Ha! No way that would hold up against the No-Name Defense!

I always believed — foolishly, I suppose — that my generation would never become that, would never tell kids that their bands could never touch the B-52s.

So, yeah, of course, I hated The Last Dance. How could I not? It’s a moony-eyed tribute to OUR TIME, when basketball was basketball, when men were men, when there were no free layups because someone might tear your head off. These players didn’t play! They were true champions! They fought like lions! They refused to yield! And the king of them all was Michael Jordan, who would go through the depths of hell just to beat the Pacers on a Tuesday!

Where has that spirit gone? What has happened to America?

Consider: The hand check. For a month now, I’ve had to listen to people my age talk about the hand check the way that Baby Boomers used to talk about the Kennedys. What is a hand check? It’s putting your hand on somebody’s back as he is posting up near the basket. It was banned a while ago. And the point seems to be that players today couldn’t handle the dreaded hand check; they would crumple under the duress of someone pushing them on the basketball court.

It makes me want to scream.

Are you kidding me? Are you bleepin’ kidding me? You think a HAND CHECK from Kevin McHale is going to slow down, say, Anthony Davis? He weighs like 50 pounds more than McHale at his peak. He would back McHale down into the fourth row without even feeling it.

Oh, and not for nothing, players don’t constantly stand there with backs to the basket now. McHale would try to guard Anthony Davis, and he would watch Davis go to the top and continue to stand there because no tall guy can make three-pointers — and Davis would strike down threes on him with great vengeance and furious anger.

That’s not even to knock McHale — he was a great player in his time. But it was just that: His time. And now it’s a different time. Stuff changes. It isn’t all for the better. But it’s mostly for the better. The athletes are bigger, stronger, faster, better trained, more agile, and they have the shared experience of seeing basketball evolve. Anyone who thinks someone from 1988 could step on a court now and stop these guys with hand checks would also think that someone could stop tanks with a musket.

  1. There is nothing interesting or likable to me about Michael Jordan.

Look, I loved Jordan. Loved him. One of his biggest fans. When I moved to North Carolina for high school, Jordan was a freshman for the Tar Heels. I instantly fell for him, tried to be like him, stuck my tongue out when playing my somewhat more earthbound game. I got a Tar Heels Jordan jersey.

I do not think it is possible to be better than Michael Jordan was in the 1980s and 1990s. He was utterly incredible. He stretched the possibilities of what a basketball player could be.

But that’s as a basketball player. As a person? No. I don’t like Michael Jordan. What’s to like? He was the Emperor from Star Wars. He lovingly embraced the dark side, constantly created mythical things to get pissed off about, belittled his teammates, ripped his old high school coach at his Hall of Fame induction, repeatedly bashed a dead man who built the Chicago Bulls, shot that electricity from his fingertips and still holds grudges for dumb things few others would have noticed in the first place.

I thought it was clear long before The Last Dance that there’s nothing deeper to explore. This isn’t the story of layers. If Michael Jordan had been eight inches shorter, he just would have been the guy in the office you hated. Yes, of course, his drive combined with his basketball intelligence combined with his truly insane competitive fire combined extraordinary talent combined to make a transcendent basketball player. He was a joy to watch.

But that doesn’t make him admirable.

And that’s what has come across for weeks now — that Jordan’s way was the superior way, that today’s players are the ones with the problem because they lack the hunger, the will, the borderline psychotic need to win. I don’t buy it. There are other ways to win. Better ways to win. I do believe Luke Skywalker and the light side triumph.

Oh, there’s a bonus thing I hated about The Last Dance — it gave a whole bunch of people a new excuse to bash LeBron James all over again. And why? One reason: Because LeBron didn’t play when so many of us were young and more open to the world and enthralled by the music of Air Jordan.

Look, it’s been said — LeBron is bigger than Jordan, stronger than Jordan, a better passer than Jordan, a better rebounder than Jordan and his inclusive style of basketball is, I believe, more conducive to winning. Sure, I miss being young too. But I’d rather not celebrate that. I’d rather try to enjoy the amazing time we’re in.